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24 June 2009

by John Wall

 Group-induced panic

IT WAS one of those things that seemed a good idea at the time. “We’re having a school trip to Wake­hurst Place with Year 3, Father John,” said a teacher at a school where I am governor. “Would you like to come?”

“How nice,” I thought, innocent that I am. “I’ll take a book for the jour­ney, and pop off later to a tea-room.” 

On the day itself, I was, with every­body else, herded on to the big yellow bus. The teacher came up to me: “Here’s a list of your children with name-stickers,” she said, and smiled sweetly. “Be strict with them.” 

So it was that at this Sussex outpost of Kew Gardens, I found myself at­tached to a group of six excitable seven-year-olds, looking expectant. “Now you’ve got to keep an eye on me,” I said hopefully, “I might wander off.” They weren’t fooled: “No, Father John,” one of them said with weary pa­tience, “You’re supposed to look after us.” 

So began a day of quiet, low-grade panic on my part as I tried to keep an eye on my group, supervise their workshops, and contain their may­hem at lunch-hour. The most stress­ful part was trying to maintain their enthusiasm while making pictures out of fruit slices and roughly chop­ped vegetables. 

Difficult funerals I can take in my stride; jittery brides I can soothe like skittish ponies; even PCC ructions I can pacify with smiling serenity; but pre­sent me with a recalcitrant seven-year-old clutching a carrot and half a badly bruised kiwi-fruit, and I’m lost. I know my limitations.

Sunday heroes 

I TAKE my hat off to modern teachers, for their expertise and pa­tience; even more do I admire that army of dedic­ated amateurs who run our Sun­day schools. Our own Sunday school is small and embattled, but it keeps plug­­ging away, and we are so lucky in the people who give up their time to run it.

A real frustration is when the little ones — especially the boys — get to the age when all their school friends are playing rugby/football/cricket on Sun­days. I remember thinking, during the Rugby World Cup final on 22 Nov­em­ber 2003, that Jonny Wilkinson’s last-minute goal-kick, glorious though it was, would prove be the deathknell of many a Sunday school up and down the country. 

My previous church, St George’s, in Newbury, has started a children’s club immediately after the morning ser­vice, which pulls in a good 20 or so, which is splendid. St Mary Magda­lene’s, in our parish, has a monthly Saturday morning kids disco with a ten-minute God-slot in the middle which gets the same sort of numbers; and our parish children’s holiday club is going from strength to strength. 

In my bleaker moments, however, I worry about Sunday morning junior church: it can sometimes feel like trying to defend a lovingly built sand­castle against the oncoming tide. 

‘Who art in tat’ 

I AM terribly proud of one of our older “Scooma” (Moulsecoomb) lads, Wesley. Until the lure of Saturday-night-in-Brighton clubbing made his Sunday mornings generally coma­tose, he was one of our most regular at­tenders, and still staggers in oc­casion­ally. Indeed, he was roped in on Good Friday to play Jesus in our ecu­menical act of witness on the Green: the Brighton Evening Argus quoted me saying rather blithely: “We’re cru­cifying Wesley this year — he’s really up for it.” 

While we were waiting for his cue, he proudly told me about his next project — a large tattoo. His parents and his five brothers are great tattoo fans, but I was somewhat taken aback by Wes’s choice. “Farver John, I’m going to ’ave ‘Only God can judge me’ tattooed on me chest.” 

I asked him why he’d chosen that particular text. “Because I believe it. God’s really important to me. And I’m gonna have a crucifix on me back.” He then sallied forth, carrying his cross. 

This all came back to me a few days ago, when our curate, James, told me he had seen Wes on duty at the check­out at Asda, chatting amiably to the customers. He called over: “James, James, come ’ere. Look at this!” He rol­led up his sleeve and proudly displayed his latest tat: the Lord’s Prayer, etched up his arm. 

In Brighton, you encounter a myriad of strange tattoos and discon­cer­ting piercings, and I find it quite touching that this 19-year-old is happily joining in the city culture and cheerfully witnessing to his faith at the same time. St Paul says in Gala­tians “I bear on my body the marks of Christ”, and, although not exactly stigmata, in his own way, I think Wes is having a go at doing the same. Bless him. 

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton. 

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